Loeb agreed that Mauna Kea is a slightly better
location for infrared observations. But La
Palma is “an excellent site, so there would be
exceptional science done there,” he added.
The Native Hawaiian opponents call themselves
“protectors” of Mauna Kea and aren’t
concerned about their mountain’s advantages
for astronomers. They just want the telescope
group to abandon Hawaii.
That would “be a win for everyone,” said protest
leader Kealoha Pisciotta shortly after Thirty
Meter Telescope officials announced they would
move forward with a building permit application
for the La Palma site a few weeks ago.
“There’s lots of good science to be done from
the Canary Islands,” Pisciotta said.
Not all Native Hawaiians are opposed to the
telescope. Some tout the educational and
economic opportunities it would bring to the
Big Island. Others have compared modern
astronomers to their Polynesian ancestors who
used stars to navigate their wooden outriggers
across the Pacific and discover new lands —
Mauna Kea stands nearly 14,000 feet (4,300
meters) above sea level, more than twice as high
as the Spanish site that is already home to the
world’s largest optical telescope. Like Hawaii’s
Big Island, the Spain site has good weather, a
stable atmosphere and very little light pollution.
Thirty Meter Telescope would be a next
generation model that’s expected to transform
ground-based astronomy — allowing scientists
to see deeper into space than previously
possible. Its large mirror will produce sharper,
more detailed images of space.